By my watch the train actually left a few minutes early. Rather than 4:49pm, the train began moving out of Shanghai South Railway Station at 4:45. Eight college friends and I were on our way to Guilin for the Chinese National Holiday.
We sat on cushioned seats arranged four to six by a small table. Although we had originally wanted bunks, only tickets for seats were left when we arrived at the ticket booth ten days before our trip. But we saved 160 rmb by taking the seats instead of the bunks, and gained a colorful ride.
Here in the economy cars of the train, we saw people from all walks of life. Heavily tanned men smoked in clusters between the cars, right near the bathrooms and the hot water tank for instant noodles, which stood behind an overflowing garbage bag. Most of those gathered here only had standing tickets. Some sat on small, foldable benches. Others sat on the floor. In this male environment a woman dared openly breastfeed her baby. The few other women buried their heads in their arms in a weary sleep. Having smoked and eaten their fill, the men slept as well.
As a few in my group were working on their film project, a small boy sitting behind them stood up in his seat and began watching them. He was traveling with his parents, uncle and younger sister. For the six-year-old boy, meeting a group of foreign college students eager to play with him must have been exciting. One of my friends bought a toy for the boy.
The men sitting near us began teasing the boy by throwing the toy around, and encouraged him to fight for his toy. They also told him to choose between the toy and his younger sister. He chose his sister.
Since one in my group ended up not coming on the train with us, we had an extra seat on which to put food. However, a man behind us noticed the empty seat and asked if it was empty. As there was obviously no one sitting there, we agreed to let him have the seat. This good turn led to our good fortune, for he was a doctor from Guilin and helped us find a good tour group as soon as we arrived.
The Chinese are smart and hospitable, the doctor said.They need better representation than they’ve received in the past.